Sunday, October 03, 2010

School Reform Rainmakers

John Walton had the right idea for education donors

It was a banner September for education philanthropy. Last week Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared on Oprah Winfrey's TV show to announce his $100 million donation to Newark, New Jersey, public schools. And this Wednesday the Charter School Growth Fund launched a new $160 million fund that will finance the expansion of high-performing charter networks across the U.S.

Since 1970, average per-pupil expenditures after inflation have more than doubled, yet test scores have remained flat. Today the Newark public school system spends some $22,000 per student, or more than twice the U.S. average, and the high school graduation rate is only 50%. Adding private money to this system would be a dreadful waste. So what excites us about these new donations is not the money per se but the reform agenda to which the dollars are tethered.

Mr. Zuckerberg is entrusting his donation to Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a strong advocate of vouchers and school choice, as is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The Newark teachers contract expired over the summer, and Mr. Booker has spoken favorably of the recently negotiated teacher contract in Washington, D.C., where schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee used private donations as leverage to enact reforms that tie teacher pay to student progress.

The new Charter School Growth initiative is supported by the Walton Family Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund and others. It will largely bypass the politicians and directly finance the growth of charter school networks, such as KIPP and the Harlem Success Academy, that have a record of accomplishment serving students that traditional public schools have consistently failed.

New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein recently wrote that "this year, at the Harlem Success Academy, a charter school in New York City, 88% of the students passed the state's reading test and 95% passed the math test, while comparable schools have pass rates of 35% in reading and 45% in math."

The late John Walton's reform strategy was to concentrate charters and vouchers in certain areas until an alternative school system is essentially in place. The goal is to create an educational market for the urban poor. Instead of neighborhood schools taking enrollment for granted, they should have to compete for students, with parents able to make choices based on what's best for their children.

More than 400,000 kids in the U.S. are on charter wait lists, and their parents will welcome this effort to replicate and expand the most successful charter school models. Like Walton and his fellow education philanthropists, they realize that it's not how much you spend but how you spend it.


Abolish the Federal Education Dept. and no-one would notice

But a lot of money would be saved

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, the U.S. Department of Education is a 30-year experiment in insanity that needs to end.

For more than 200 years, the federal government respected the wisdom of the U.S. Constitution by not interfering with those most capable of ensuring children receive a good education – parents, teachers, and local schools.

During those years, our nation won two world wars, put a man on the moon and became a global superpower. Yet, in 1979, politicians in Washington who were eager to placate special interests cast aside the Constitution and created a federal Department of Education as a political favor to the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teacher union.

While its existence may seem non-controversial today, the department’s creation was incredibly contentious at the time, and even opposed by publications such as the New York Times and Washington Post.

They were right to be worried. Since 1965, the federal government has invested over $2 trillion in American education. The payoff? Stagnant test scores, abysmal graduation rates, and piles of debt.

Continuing down this path is the definition of insanity, yet that is precisely what the unions and their patrons in Congress continue to push for.

Consider the following facts:

* Per pupil spending at the K-12 level, after accounting for inflation, has more than doubled since 1970, yet outcomes have not improved. Since 1970, long-term scores in reading, math and science have remained completely flat.

* The U.S. Department of Education budget has grown from $14 billion to $107 billion this fiscal year – not including the nearly $120 billion dollars in public debt the agency will issue to supply federal students loans this year.

* The workforce of educators has increased from 22.3 pupils per teacher in 1970 to 15.7 in 2005 – a 30 percent decrease in the number of students per teacher – with no discernible benefit.

* Increased federal “investments” in higher education have worsened college costs and affordability. Despite the tens of billions of dollars in federal student aid made available each year, college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 through 2007 – almost triple the rise in median family income.

* College graduation rates also remain abysmal. The six year graduation rate – two years following an on-time graduation of four years for bachelor’s degree programs – averaged only 55.9 percent nationally. The three year graduation rate –a full year after an on-time graduation of two years for Associates degrees – averaged only 27.5 percent nationally.

* In 2000, the House Education and Workforce Committee reported that there were more than 760 education-related programs spread across 39 federal agencies costing taxpayers $120 billion per year.

Parents were promised no child would be left behind by increased federal involvement in education. Yet, there is little evidence the dramatic interference in the classroom by Washington politicians and bureaucrats during recent decades has done anything to improve student scores or enhance their education.

In fact, government’s increased role and the obscene amount of power accumulated by teachers unions has made even a discussion about reform almost impossible. Even though the unions and big government have failed catastrophically, somehow it is those who dare question the wisdom of expanding the federal government’s role in the classroom who are denigrated as undermining our children’s education.

The time has come to end what President Ronald Reagan once called “President Carter’s new bureaucratic boondoggle.” Our founders understood that is foolishness to think politicians and bureaucrats in Washington – many of whom have never taught in the classroom a day in their lives – know what is best for students in the diverse cities, cultures and regions across America.

They never have and never will.

With our national debt at $13.5 trillion – $43,000 per man, woman and child – and climbing, we no longer have the option of indulging in the failed spend-our-way-to-success education policies of recent years. Plus, the rest of the world isn’t going to stop advancing while politicians in Washington pander to unions and demagogue reformers as being anti-education.

The American people are demanding a serious debate about education because they know our system is broken. The time has come for bold solutions that begin with getting Washington out of the way. Only then can we hope to implement the reforms that all of our children deserve.


British government scraps the 'no touching' rule for teachers in bid to let them assert more authority

‘No touch’ rules that discourage teachers from restraining or comforting children are to be scrapped, the Education Secretary said last night. Michael Gove also signalled the coalition was pushing ahead with controversial plans to give teachers a right to anonymity when faced by allegations from pupils.

‘At the moment if you want to become au fait with what this department thinks on how to keep order in class you have to read the equivalent of War and Peace,’ he said. ‘There are about 500 pages of guidance on discipline and another 500 pages on bullying. We will clarify and shrink that.

‘Teachers worry that if they assert a degree of discipline, one determined maverick pupil will say “I know my rights” and so teachers become reticent about asserting themselves.

‘There are a number of schools that have “no touch” policies and we are going to make clear this rule does not apply. I don’t believe you should be able to hit children. ‘But I do believe that teachers need to know they can physically restrain children, they can interpose themselves between two children that may be causing trouble, and they can remove them from the classroom.

‘The important thing is that teachers know they are in control, and this department and the justice system will back them.’

Insisting that teachers should be able to console victims of bullying, he made light-hearted reference to the David Cameron hug-a-hoodie story, joking: ‘Teachers should not have to think youths have to wear hoodies before they can comfort them.’

Mr Gove promised to give teachers a general right to search children for any items that are banned under a school’s rules.

At present, the list was too restrictive and a legal minefield, he added. He also vowed to speed up the timetable by which allegations against teachers have to be investigated, or dropped.

Just before the general election, the Labour government clarified guidance to say that teachers were allowed to use ‘reasonable force’ when dealing with troublesome pupils.

However, Ed Balls, who was Children’s Secretary under Gordon Brown, insisted it was a ‘myth’ that some schools employed no-contact policies.

Mr Gove said he wanted voluntary groups and city academies to take over units for excluded children, which are currently run by councils. He said the units were the ‘weak link in the chain’ and also promised that the pupil premium for schools taking poor children would survive the cutbacks.


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